Challenges and Choices

Experienced parents of disabled children share ideas on how to relate to the mother or father of a child with special needs.

Here are a few tips:

Don't Pity Parents: Don't feel sorry for a parent because his or her child has a disability. Pitying doesn't help them to move forward with the organizing they need to do. It also does not help them to feel capable. Feeling sorry for their child causes the child to feel like an invalid in all areas. Pity is not helpful.

Empathy - the ability to feel along with another person - to listen to what your relative or friend is experiencing and try to feel what he or she does - is appreciated.

Special is part of their child

It is natural to imagine what the child might have been like in the absence of her disability. Sometimes you can almost see what your relative or friend's daughter might have been like had she been a typically developing child. She may suffer from cognitive impairment (mental retardation) and low muscle tone, challenges with communication and impaired social skills, or other medical issues.

However, it is not helpful to focus on who your relative or friend's son may have been if not for his special needs. They are part of him, and define his uniqueness. His specific challenges and purpose in the world are linked to his limitations. Love him for who he is.

Their child belongs in their family

If a child with special needs lives at home, please don't suggest that he might be better off in an institution. Your relative or friend's son is part of the family. Sure, things are tough, and mom and dad are dealing with challenges. That's what parents do. And don't make a big deal about it either. They do not want to hear that they are amazing for raising their daughter at home. It's how families live.

If parents have made the difficult decision to place their child in an institution, recognize that it wasn't an easy choice. They made it because they care about their child and feel that her needs are met best by constant professional care. Their daughter is part of their family and lives outside their home.

Understanding and respecting parent's views can help you give them the support they need and appreciate in caring for their child who has special needs.